Weighing the Buchanan factors; Ideals for the heartland

Friday, January 10, 1992

At a time when the bleatings of the Democratic hopefuls are treated with solemn respect, Pat Buchanan’s entry into the presidential race was greeted by an unprecedented barrage of smear and vilification from the media, right and left alike.

It is ironic that this savage treatment has been meted out to a man who has refused to level any personal attacks upon George Bush, and who has stuck to conveying a deeply held set of principles with intelligence and good humor. And this from pundits who spend a great deal of time deploring “negative campaigning” and calling for candidates to come forward with “ideas.”

But God forbid that these ideas be Politically Incorrect!

Neither right nor left can stand Pat Buchanan’s ideas, which are far from the usual torpid middle-of-the-road blather. The right hates them because these are the very ideas that the Official Conservatives, before they came to Washington, used to hold. And so Pat’s campaign is a standing reproach to those Official Conservatives who, for a long time, have stood for little but getting and keeping government jobs and contracts.

And as for liberals, they can’t stand Pat because they know that, unlike Mr. Bush, he means it, and everyone knows it; that his principles are not simply trotted out for a little campaign rhetoric every few years to keep the rubes outside the Beltway in line. No one has to read Pat Buchanan’s lips or hips.

What are Pat’s principles? They are to return to the ideals and policies of the Old Republic, to bring back individual liberty, and therefore to whittle away and eventually abolish the Welfare State and Regulatory State, as well as the official racism that violates individual rights in behalf of set-asides, affirmative action and other special privileges to Accredited Victim groups. This means, in the depth of our severe recession, pointing out that statism always deprives people of prosperity as well as liberty, and calling, not only for drastic cuts in taxation, but also in government spending and the giant bureaucracy that is destroying our substance.

Judging from overwhelmingly favorable response by the public to Mr. Buchanan’s candidacy, not only are these ideas still popular in the conservative heartland outside the Beltway, but they may even be embraced by a Silent Majority that is getting increasingly noisy – and that is what scares the establishment media about Mr. Buchanan’s announcement. For by jumping into the fray, Pat has raised a standard that is already transforming the meaning of “conservatism” in the United States.

What about Mr. Buchanan’s much-deplored “isolationism?” Here we have a remarkable failure of leadership on the part of the pundits as well as of the Bush administration. In the last two years, we have all experienced a truly astounding revolutionary change in the world: the disappearance, the veritable implosion of communism and the Soviet Union.

For almost 50 years, we have waged an unremitting Cold War against this perceived threat, the Cold War virtually defining America’s foreign policy, and now that that has collapsed like a house of cards, what has been the Bush and the establishment response? The only rethinking they have done is to do their pitiable and grotesque best to save their beloved Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union from collapse – and to prevent the new world of independent republics, from the Baltic States to Ukraine, from coming into being. This is not fundamental rethinking, this is absurdity, accompanied by continuing alarms against the resurgence of “isolationism.”

Pat is one of the few leaders in America to meet the challenges of this wonderful new world shorn of the horrors of totalitarian communism. With the Soviet threat gone, he points out, it is time for America to stop trying to run the entire world – a futile as well as expensive task – and to turn to facing and solving our mounting problems at home. What’s wrong with that?

Pat’s policy of America First is simply that: to act in foreign affairs at all times on what is in the best interests of the American people – and not in the service of any abstract chimera such as “global democracy.” Once again, Pat’s opponents on right and left know full well that this is what the American people want, too, and that is precisely why they fear him.

The phoniest charge leveled against Pat is that he is a dread “protectionist.” As a free-market economist who believes in unrestricted free trade, it is my considered opinion that George Bush and all of the other candidates are far more protectionist than he. The Bush administration has been one of the most protectionist in decades; it is already trying to keep out Japanese mini-vans, and Mr. Bush is traveling to Japan to force the Japanese to buy more American cars and sell fewer automobiles here. This is “free trade?”

More importantly, Mr. Buchanan wants to abolish the subsidized trade racket known as “foreign aid,” in which the American taxpayer is fleeced to help foreign governments dominate their own populations, and especially to subsidize American export industries and their bankers. Furthermore, Pat is opposed to the Bush establishment drive toward economic world management by central bankers and international regulatory treaties. Compared to the subsidies and restrictions his opponents would levy on trade, Pat is virtually a free-trader. And why else would Pat name former Rep. Ron Paul, well-known as a libertarian and free-trader, as chairman of his Economic Advisory Committee?

The American people are entitled to a full and fair airing of these vital issues. If television can bring us the details of Patricia Bowman’s underwear, as well as the seven boring debates among the Democrats, it can also bring us debates between George Bush and Pat Buchanan. Surely the American public are entitled to no less. And why is Mr. Bush unwilling to go head-to-head with Pat Buchanan on television? It is because he knows that Mr. Buchanan is a real person, who writes his own speeches and scorns the ministrations of pollsters and handlers Is George Bush afraid of Pat Buchanan? Is the wimp factor to prove dominant at last?

Murray Rothbard was S.J. Hall Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and vice-president for academic affairs of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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